Digitizing Theses on North Dakota

This semester I am once again directing a public/digital history practicum.  The goal of this little course, like the one before it, is to develop a digital history collection that might be of interest to some kind of public. The course is designed for a small group of students with almost no background in digital history.

The focus of the practicum will be on a collection of Master’s Theses (for list, see below) produced at the University of North Dakota between 1909 and 1955. These theses are currently housed in the Department of Special Collections at the Chester Fritz Library.  These theses present a significant body of more or less original scholarship produced over the course of 100 years of graduate education in the field of history at the University of North Dakota.  Our first emphasis will be on theses that contribute to the history of the state or the region.  Most of these theses were written under the direction of Orin G. Libby or Elwyn B. Robinson (and a number of these works contributed to his History of North Dakota).

The specific objectives of this practicum involve creating a proof of concept. This will specifically involve the following steps:

1. A basic collection of digital objects with appropriate metadata.
2. Interpretative material in association with the digital objects that makes the collection accessible and understandable to the general public.
3. An academic presentation that details the creation of the digital collection, its historical context, and its significance.
4. A program for publicizing the collection over the course of the semester. This includes developing a media strategy and setting goals to assess its success.
5. A grant proposal for future funding for the project based on methods and results of the proof-of-concept level work.

This practicum I think should proceed along four overlapping phases:

Phase 1. Familiarize ourselves with other comparable projects and the tools of the trade (in terms of equipment and software). Identify and scan a group of theses to determine time and procedure and document this work.  Produce a prioritized list of theses to be scanned this semester and establish a schedule for scanning.

Phase 2. Scan the theses on the prioritized list. Adjust procedure document as necessary. Discuss search and mark-up strategies for these texts.  Determine how to “brand” these theses.

Phase 3. Publication and publicity. Release scanned theses to public in a systematic way and leverage digital, new media, old media (press release?) and social media tools to make these theses visible and valuable.

Phase 4.  Prepare a formal report and proposal for completing the job of scanning M.A. theses and presenting them to the public.

More to come as this work continues!

Here’s a list of theses produced by the students in the practicum:

(Theses marked with an asterisk appeared in Robinson’s History of North Dakota.)

1. Myrtle Bemis  1909, History of the Settlement of Swedes in North Dakota
2. Charles Denoyer 1909, History of Fort Totten
3. Evelyn Leigh Mudge 1914, The Development of Western Protestant Churches
4. William Charles Whitford 1915, The Establishment of Overland Connections Between the Region East of the Mississippi and Red River
5. Bertha M Kuhn* 1917, History of Traill County, North Dakota
6. Axel Martin Tollefson 1917, History of Norwegian Settlement in Grand Forks County
7. Alexander Aas 1920, History of the City of Grand Forks to 1889
8. Waldemar E. Lillo 1923, History of the Whig Party to 1840
9. Elmer Ellis 1925, Minor Parties from the Civil War to 1900
10. Ethel Mautz 1929, The Factory Reform Act of 1833 in England: A Survey of Events Immediately Preceding and Accompaning
11. Eva Grace Syre 1930, The London Housing Problem, 1840-1875
12. Isabel Johnston 1930, Geographic factors in the history of Grand Forks, North Dakota
13. Frances H. Owen 1932, Social influences in Colonial Days
14. Lillian Viola Bangs 1932,  The Effect of Parliamentary Legislation Upon the Development of Railroads in England from 1825-18
15. Leal R. Edmunds 1932, Congressional Reconstruction and the Radical Program
16. Clarence Chester Shively 1933, History of the Policy of the United States Toward Arbitration from 1789 to 1933
17. Anna Swenson 1933, Cleveland and the Hawaiian Question 1893
18. Flossie Burson 1934, The Transition of Agriculture in the Great Plains from 1920 to 1929
19. John C. McKinnon 1934, The Star Route Frauds
20. Clara Mae Kjos 1934, Origin of the Irish Free State, 1800-1922
21. John Almon Page 1934, History of North Dakota Public High Schools
22. Albert Freeman Arnason 1935, The Foreign Policy of Sir Edward Grey During the Moroccan Crises, 1906-1911
23. Arnold Olaf Goplen 1935, Congressional Opposition to Lincoln in the Early Years of the Civil War
24. Raymond Joseph Gwewrth 1936, Some Political and Diplomatic Aspects of the Treaty of Washington
25. Ella S. Quam 1936, History of Homestead Legislation
26. Edwin O. Tilton 1936,  American Expansion Toward the Canadian Northwest, 1865-1870
27. John Louis Rezatto 1937, Albania, The Adriatic’s Problem Child
28. Clayton L. Baskin 1938, Political and Constitutional Development in India Since 1920
29. James Price Scroeder 1939, A History of Organized labor in Fargo, North Dakota
30. Alfred Jerome Cole 1939, History of Health Legislation Affecting the Public Schools of Minnesota
31. Ingeborg Fjalstad 1939, Constitutional and Political Problems of the Irish Free State Until 1932
32. Henry Nelson Symons 1939, Bismarck’s Relation with England, 1870-1878
33. Joseph B. Voeller* 1940, The Origin of the German-Russian people and their role in North Dakota
34. Albert George Selke 1940, A History of the Initiative in North Dakota
35. James Nelson Kent 1941,  A History of Education in Grand Forks County
36. Bertil Maynard Johnson 1941,  The Ethiopian Crisis of 1935-1936 and its European Repercussions
37. Clarence Victor Johnson 1942, The European Diplomatic Crisis of 1935
38. Clifford Arnold Solom 1944, History of the North Dakota Congress of Parents and Teachers
39. William M. Grindeland 1944, History of public school system of Ransom County: 1881-1944
40. John Hove 1946, History of Public School Financial Legislation in North Dakota
41. Norman H. Hanson* 1946, History of consolidated schools in North Dakota
42. Otto C. Schultz 1947, A History of the State normal and Industrial School at Ellendale, North Dakota
43. Edward Archibald Milligan* 1948, The Standing Rock Sioux: 1874-1890
44. Thamar Emelia Dufwa 1948, Lincoln and Secession, 1858-1861
45. Agnes McCorkell Stee*1948, History of the Minot State Teachers College
46. Lawrence Blood 1948, A History of South Dakota Boy’s State
47. Lucy Kidder Leobrick 1948, History of School District Number One
48. Julian John Rolczynski 1949, The History of the State Educational Institution at Mayville, North Dakota
49. Asbjorn B. Isaacson 1949, Farm Mechanization in the Red River Valley: 1870-1915
50. Vernon Alfred Johnson 1950, History of Public School System of Kittson County, 1881-1950
51. Robert Samuel Anderson* 1951, A Social History of Grand Forks, North Dakota
52. Glenn Alden Hanna 1951, History of the Valley City State Teachers College
53. Adrian Ritchey Dunn 1951, A History of old Fort Berthold
54. Steven Hoekman 1951, The History of Fort Sully
55. Robert J. Murray 1951, History of Education in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota
56. Ralph Arthur Larson 1951, History of Education in Clearwater County
57. James D. Johnson 1952, A History of the Midland Continental Ralroad, 1906-1950
58. James E. Palm 1952, A History of Dilworth school System at Dilworth, Minnesota
59. Lenora Isaacson Johnson 1952, The History of Ada, Minnesota: The Friendly City in the Heart of the Red River Valley, 1876-195
60. Lambert J. Mehl 1953, Missouri Grows to Maturity  in North Dakota: A Regional History of the Lutheran Church–Missouri
61. Gerald C. Caskey 1953: A History of Northern Montana College to 1951
62. Rovert J. Murray 1953:  History of Education in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota
63. Embert J. Hendrickson 1954, The City Where the Two Rivers Meet: The Background and Early History of Thief River Falls, Minn
64. Marian Elizabeth McKechnie 1955, Spiritual Pioneering: A History of the Synodof North Dakota, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., 1885
65. E. Bruce Hagen*1955, The North Dakota State Mill and Elevator Association: History, Organization, Administration
66. Sinclair Snow 1955, American Reaction to the Mexican Church-State Conflict of 1926-1929


  1. Are you working with the UND library on this project? I know this is the sort of thing that at my institution the library’s digital projects division would be interested in!


    1. Phoebe,

      Absolutely. I need to update the post to say this. I am working with our department of special collections (to use their book scanner, get access to the these, advice on copyright issues, and to discuss which theses have historically had to most use) and with our Working Group in Digital and New Media (to provide computers for post-processing, OCR and Mark-up advice, and work space).

      The key for us is to convince public history students that a collection of digital objects can include texts. In other words, theses are artifacts that are no more obsolete than, say, a butter churn or something like that. So these texts deserved to be positioned in a historical context the same way that we would quilt, or an olde tyme bicycle, or ancient artifact. You, obviously, understand this, but getting public history students to understand it was a bit of a different challenge.



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